I recently watched The Upside, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. I’d hesitated to watch it because I was afraid it would play the physical difficulties of being quadriplegic for laughs, but I took the leap after a twitter friend said it was good.
I enjoyed the movie. Both lead actors were excellent in their parts. It didn’t shy away from the difficulties of life, but was mostly funny, heartfelt and life affirming.
Naturally I had to buy the book that inspired the film (films, I should say, as the original French movie inspired remakes in Brazil, India and the US). Upon heading to Amazon, I discovered there were two memoirs, one written by the man who inspired Bryan Cranston’s character, the other by the man who inspired Kevin Hart’s character.
I decided to read both.
Second Wind by Philippe Pozzo di Borgo
In 1993, at 42, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo landed badly after paragliding and was paralyzed from the neck down.
This is the story of a man from two prominent wealthy French families, the Ducs Pozzo di Borgo and Marquises de Vogue, his interest in women, his relationship with his wife, their difficulties having children, his wife’s illness and death, his interest in women and his life as a quadriplegic.
Thrown into the mix is his car wrecking, sex obsessed carer, Abdel.
If you have seen the movie, forget it before reading this book. There is a ghost of reality hiding on the screen, but the true story is completely different.
Second Wind isn’t about Philippe and Abdel’s relationship, two untouchables (as the French movie is called), one through Algerian descendant and criminal history, the other through wealth and disability. It isn’t about being a quadriplegic either. The central thesis of the memoir seems to be Philippe could get through anything as long as he had the love of a good woman.
I found it difficult to imagine what it must be like to live in Philippe’s world. This is a man of such immense wealth and status that family holidays as a child included visiting their ancestors buried in the local graveyards (it seemed wherever they went, Pozzo’s had a whole VIP section of the cemetery). Reading about his family, their houses and excursions was completely alien to me. I found it truly fascinating that such people exist (contrary to rumor, I don’t mix with the rich and famous).
He is humble in describing his disability, and I felt at home in the realm of chronic physical pain. His descriptions of his attempts to have a child with his wife and the diagnosis of her illness were heartfelt and harrowing. For a man with such power, he copes with difficulties beyond his control very well.
I found the passages about Abdel very stressful to read. He is only mentioned in relation to another car he has wrecked, man he has beaten up or woman he has used physically and abandoned. I think their love of women could be the only thing they had in common, although Philippe considered women should be treated with respect, unlike Abdel.
My favorite part of the book was the description of paragliding. So beautifully written, and the thought of soaring with the birds so enchanting, that I almost want to try it out myself.
I award Second Wind…
Second Wind is available for $7.18 ebook and $9.05 print book on Amazon.
You Changed My Life by Abdel Sellou
Abdel Yamine Sellou recounts incidents from his life, starting with his parents leaving him in Paris with his aunt and uncle, his wild childhood and adolescent, and his eventual job placement with Philippe Pozzo, which changed his life.
As a memoir taken on its own, I don’t think this book is very satisfying. It’s disjointed and sparse in detail. As a companion book to Second Wind, however, it’s fascinating.
Abdel is honest about his upbringing and life of crime. He stole because he thought life was a game and everything was his for the taking. He lived in the moment, and he never had anyone he respected to teach him otherwise.
I can understand why Philippe wrought a change in Abdel. Philippe needed him. If Abdel didn’t lift him into the shower chair in the morning, or drive him to the hospital, Philippe suffered even more. It wasn’t about the job, it was about the fact that another human being relied upon him. On top of that, Philippe respected Abdel. He trusted him, and he cared enough about him that he wanted him to be better. It’s hard to ignore the advice of a man who can only move his head, is in constant pain and yet bears it all graciously.
There are disturbing parts to this book. At age ten, Abdel finds a naked picture of one of his female classmates. He tries to make money out of the situation, blackmailing her, but I couldn’t get over the thought of why did a ten year old have a photograph of herself naked and why did she bring it to school? Was this a normal part of life in the early 1980’s?
The other thing that struck me was how deeply traumatized Abdel was by being given away by his parents at age 4. Despite claiming this was normal for people from African countries, it’s obvious it had a profound effect on him.
Abdel is hard to like at the start of the book, and I admire the author’s honesty for not trying to sugar coat or justify his behavior.
I award You Changed My Life…
You Changed My Life is available for $9.52 ebook and $14.99 print book on Amazon.